The Motifs of Utopia and Dystopia in Aldous Huxley’s "Brave New World"

Seminar Paper, 2012

26 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Content

1. Preface

2. The Author
2.1. Aldous Huxley – A short biography
2.2. Work
2.3. Major Influence
2.4. Writing between the wars

3. Defining Dystopia and Utopia
3.1. Defining Elements Utopia
3.2. Defining Elements Dystopia

4. Brave New World
4.1. The World State
4.2. The Savage Reservation

5. Point of View – Utopia or Dystopia
5.1. The Savages
5.1.1. The Noble Savage
5.1.2. Linda
5.1.3. John
5.2. Bernard Marx
5.3. Hemholtz Watson
5.4. Lenina Crowne

6. Résumé

7. Bibliography

1. Preface

One of the many features of science fiction is the creation of alternative worlds and societies. The utopia-motif has been a very creative one in doing so, constantly inspiring authors to pursuit the goal of imagining a perfect world. The motif is also productive in a sense of redevelopment, since it serves to lay out the points of criticism that occur when looking at the “real” world at times. These approaches have resulted in the formation of new motifs such as dystopia.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is an ambiguous masterpiece that allows the reader to reveal various levels of meaning. Researchers mainly suggest it to be read as a satire, but it is also considered to be a key work of dystopian literature. In this paper I want to point out the elements that allows us to identify Brave New World as both a utopian and dystopian narrative. I will concentrate on the points of view because in my opinion they determine the motif. My thesis is that depending on the viewpoint of the different characters the two worlds Huxley presents us can be either interpreted as a utopia or dystopia.

I will begin this seminar paper with a very short biography and overview of Aldous Huxley’s work. The first chapter will also briefly touch the major influences and the era in which Huxley wrote Brave New World.

The second and third chapter aim to introduce the major terms Utopia and Dystopia, but also outline the two different worlds Huxley describes in his novel. After that I will explore whether or not my thesis is applicable and verifiable. I will look at the major characters of Brave New World, their key features and how they perceive either the World State or the Savage Reservation.

2. The Author

2.1. Aldous Huxley – A short biography

Aldous Huxley was born on July 26 1894 into a family with a well-educated and sophisticated background. His father was Leonard Huxley, who was the editor of the Cornhill magazine, his grandfather was the illustrious scientist T. H. Huxley, and his mother was an Arnold, a famous British intellectual family. Since he was part of this educated aristocracy, that was a dominant force in the late-nineteenth-century England, he received the best education at Eton, where he taught after graduating from Balliol College.

Huxley married Maria Nys in 1919 and spent much of his time of the following decade in France and Italy. He also travelled a lot, exploring not only Europe but also the East and America, where he settled down and lived for many years. He died in California on 22 November 1963. (see Brooke 199)

2.2. Work

Huxley soon decided to devote himself to writing. In the beginning of his writing career he struggled with direction, form and voice (see Keulks 90). His fist published work was a small volume of poems; his early poetry is mostly satirical or epigrammatic. He is less known as a poet than as a prose writer, but nevertheless his work was extremely skilled. The work is remarkable for being unlike the contemporary Georgian school, since Huxley had been much influenced by the French symbolists. In 1921 his first novel Crome Yellow appeared, and with it he established his reputation and – on an aesthetic level – achieved his greatest success. In this book he develops the essence of the idea that he later elaborated in Brave New World. Huxley also proved himself as an essayist and published various collections, he also wrote travel books, biographies and other miscellaneous writings. (see Brooke 199-206)

Aldous Huxley was active over five decades and is remembered as one of the most productive and flexible writer. He published two or more books per year. In 1932 Brave New World was published, that, together with Point Counter Point (1928), ensured his international fame. Brave New World portrays one of the most celebrated examples of modern technocratic dystopias. It is said that this novel marks a shift in Huxley’s work, that it heralds the social prophecy that characterizes the second half of his career, when he expanded the scope and the tenor of his analysis of society’s institutional forces. (see Keulks 90-2)

2.3. Major Influence

Being born in 1894 and coming to maturity during the first two decades of the 20th century, Aldous Huxley grew up in a time that was influenced by the probably most potent intellectual H. G. Wells, who was the last of the great utopian writers. (see Brooke 197) Wells massively produced utopian schemes and debated their merits and feasibilities endlessly. (see Stableford, Scientific Romance 25) His early scientific romances, such as The Time Machine (1895), The War of the Worlds (1898) and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), are all key works for the genre. It is notable that Huxley’s Grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley was Darwin’s champion in the great tournament of ideas, since Wells was hugely influenced with the Darwinian faith, and at the same time dominated the era; he produced a body of work that engaged contemporary cultural anxieties in the wake of the victory of Darwinism and its enthronement as dominant ideology. More and more Wells urges the technological man to confront himself and his unpleasant situation (a situation unlike any before in history), highly influenced by the great cultural trauma of World War I and even more by the political polarization of the 1930s and the increasing sense of inevitability about the next conflict. (Ruddick 25)

Huxley, on the other side, was deeply pessimistic, the complete opposite of Wells’ bouncing optimist. Brave New World was intended to be a revolt against the Wells, especially his Men Like Gods (1923), where we find a rosy portrayal of a utopia. (see Bradshaw viii) However, the two writers still had more in common than one might assume, they were both revolutionary and prophetic writers, popularizers of aesthetic, philosophic and of course scientific ideas, and both writers became a major influence for the following generations. (see Brooke 197)

Another major influence for Huxley’s earlier work was Thomas Love Peacock with his “Konversations- und Ideenroman” (Erzgräber, Englische Literatur 483). He adopted Peacocks schematic characxters and added witty comments and conversations. In Brave New World Huxley included utopian elements and thus follows the “Typus der szientifischen Utupie” (Erzgräber, Aldous Huxley 199) which had been developed in the early 20th century. Here again the major influence was Well’s A Modern Utopia (1905). In this novel is full of optimistic confidence in science and technological progress that Huxley saw as a reason for deep mistrust. He adapted Wells’ structure of society, but turned it from a kinetic into a static one . (199)

2.4. Writing between the wars

The First World War left cities and people devastated. Men were lured into joining the armies, but being on the front was unlike anything soldiers had experienced in warfare before. Technology had developed so far that with the strike of one attack vast amounts of people, even cities, were wiped out. Now there was the possibility of a biological war, fought with chemical weapons of mass destruction that aimed not always to kill an army, but to shatter the enemy deep down to his core.

As Stableford suggests “futuristic writers had looked forward to the Great War as a war to end war, and a war to secure civilization. […] The war ended, though, with civilization no more secure than it had been before, and the fear of future wars unbanished.” (Scientific Romance 239) Huxley himself predicted that one of the most unfortunate consequences of WW I would be that the American world domination was inevitable. He was not the only one of that opinion; many intellectuals and writers concerned themselves with the grotesquerie of America. (see Bradshaw vii)

In the decades between the wars stories full of possible destructive war scenarios were produced at regular intervals, reflecting the widespread anxiety. Narratives that dealt with the aftermath of war often modified the horror by a measure of romanticism. Also, there is an underlying notion that a civilization, that had destroyed itself, was not worth having in the first place. The disaster cleared away the old world so that a new world, an Utopia, could be rebuilt on its ruins by the enlightened few that had survived. It is also true that in many of the British futuristic works the writers apparently see the destruction of civilization as inevitable. (see Stableford, Scientific Romance 241) There were two similar standpoints, one suggesting that “civilisation per se is corrupting and that men would be better off returned to a state of nature [and] the more moderate line that it is only the kind of civilisation that we have built which is corrupt, and that its destruction may pave the way for something better.” (Stableford, Scientific Romance 247)

Another factor was the Wall Street Crash in October 1929. A global depression followed, unemployment rose rapidly and the economic problems grew daily – Britain was on the brink of chaos. As Europe was heading towards a complete economic collapse and bloody unrest, civilization itself seemed doomed. Huxley saw the impacts of the crisis himself and his pessimism deepened. He and many of his contemporaries argued that parliamentary democracy had to be abandoned and men “who will compel us to do and suffer what a rational foresight demands” (Huxley, quoted in Bradshaw ix) should be put in charge. Although he had claimed that “to the Bolshevist idealist, Utopia is indistinguishable from a Ford factory” (Huxley, quoted in Bradshaw ix) in 1928, he called for a national plan like in the Soviet Union in order to survive the present crisis and create stability in 1931, because any form of order is better than chaos. (see Bradshaw ix-xi)


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The Motifs of Utopia and Dystopia in Aldous Huxley’s "Brave New World"
University of Vienna
Science Fiction: The Classics
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motifs, utopia, dystopia, aldous, huxley’s, brave, world
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Doris Dier (Author), 2012, The Motifs of Utopia and Dystopia in Aldous Huxley’s "Brave New World", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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